Interview with Dr Keith Ridge CBE, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England

Dr Keith Ridge CBE, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, tells us about his career pathway, passions and inspirations.

How did you get to where you are today?

I enjoyed my school days but there was no careers advice. After various jobs I ended up working in Guys’ Hospital as a Pharmacy Assistant in the manufacturing department, and then as a lab technician at the School of Pharmacy in London, now part of UCL. Eventually, I decided pharmacy was for me, and started the degree in 1987, then went on work for clinical services at the Whittington Hospital in London.

I was very lucky and came under the wing of John Farrell (who oversaw the Royal Free and Whittington Hospital pharmacy services) and Judy Cope (who was chief pharmacist at the Whittington, and now Chief Pharmacist at Great Ormond Street) who sponsored me not only to do a MSc in Clinical Pharmacy, but then also a pharmacy practice PhD, registered at the University of Manchester.

Peter Noyce and Nick Barber, two of the leading pharmacy practice professors at the time, were co-supervisors of my PhD. My research involved evaluating how ward based automation impacted on medication errors. I realised just how much clinical pharmacists could contribute to patient care and so when I went into the Department of Health for the first time in the 1990s, I tried to promote that further, building on what Peter Noyce had done when he was Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer. Peter was the driving force behind HC(88)54 The Way Forward for Hospital Pharmaceutical Services, which led to the deployment of clinical pharmacy across hospitals in England.

From the policy environment in the Department of Health I became Chief Pharmacist for North Glasgow hospitals. That was quite a transition: overnight from an office in Whitehall to the basement of Glasgow Royal Infirmary!

If you work collaboratively to agree what needs to be done to improve patient care and then empower people to change, great things can happen.

I learnt so much in Glasgow. I was asked to bring together two disparate pharmacy teams across 11 hospital sites, including four major hospitals. I learnt that if you work collaboratively to agree what needs to be done to improve patient care and then empower people to change things, then great things can happen. I had my eye on trying to become Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at DoH in England so after five years in Glasgow, I moved to become Director of Pharmacy at University Hospitals Birmingham. A new hospital was being planned without a pharmacy in it, which was a really interesting challenge to see how the use of decentralised automation could be used to full effect.

In both Glasgow and Birmingham I put in place management structures that included pharmacy technicians in senior management positions, which is so important if you want to free up pharmacists. I had only been at UHB for just over a year when the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer post came up. I was only 43 and didn’t think I would get the job!

Over the last 11 years I have tried to put in place more of the infrastructure necessary to enhance the clinical role of pharmacy teams, starting with the most fundamental part of all – the establishment of an independent regulator to help make sure that as the clinical role of pharmacy teams became greater, the right checks and balances are in place to keep patients safe.

We also set out a clinical vision for pharmacy in the 2008 White Paper, Pharmacy in England, Building on Strengths, Delivering the Future. That led to the Modernising Pharmacy Careers programme, which is still being implemented, but the deployment of clinical pharmacy across primary care in the form of pharmacists in practices, care homes and urgent care centres, and the Carter programme aspiration of having 80 percent of pharmacist activity being clinical, partly builds on the MPC programme.

What keeps you motivated in your job?

Improving patient care. I have always kept my eye firmly fixed on that, especially in challenging times. I know pharmacy professionals can do so much more to improve quality of care of patients with medicines, and I think right now we are seeing some important initiatives in primary care that will really help with that. I’m also enthused by young pharmacy professionals, who can see the future clearly and I see it as part of my role to help them get to where they want to be through initiatives such as the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme.  

What is your next professional challenge?

We are making great strides in the deployment of clinical pharmacy into primary care but the next stage is two fold. First, we need create a structure and quality assurance process that not only ensures long term sustainability of clinical pharmacy careers in primary care but also underpins pharmacy practice across all sectors, as pharmacy becomes even more clinical. Secondly, we need to create an integrated approach to pharmacy practice across all sectors, including community pharmacy.

What does the UKCPA community mean to you as a practitioner?

Clinical pharmacy is at the heart of most things I do and UKCPA has always been there to both promote development and give me reassurance that specialist practice is thriving.

Who or what inspires you?

I am determined to see better patient outcomes from medicines, and to help begin to solve some longstanding issues. Take polypharmacy for example. We have data that shows an average 85 year old in England is on around 12 dispensed medicines, and the variation is such that some are dispensed 50! This is simply not right and we must do something about it. And who inspires me? My PhD supervisor, Peter Noyce, who died recently. I look back on his career and see how he, with great vision and determination, took clinical pharmacy a long way forward. If I can do half as much as Peter then that would be fine.

What are the biggest challenges facing the profession today?

In some ways, it’s the same for all healthcare professions. The economics and affordability of modern healthcare, the dramatic changes in science, such as genomics, and technology, and of course changing demographics and the demands of the public in an ever more transparent society.

But right now the biggest challenge for pharmacy is to embrace the opportunities of the incredible demand for clinical pharmacy, whilst modernising the structures and processes that will be needed to make the most of that opportunity. This will take a whole new level of leadership, at every level of the profession, and by those who influence it.

Tell us something people don’t know about you.

During a school rugby match, I (badly) tackled an up and coming footballer. He fell awkwardly and broke his arm. That was Tony Adams, who later became Arsenal and England captain. Sorry Tony!


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